If you are not already working to create a paperless law office, you need to ask yourself why you're not taking advantage of technology to:
While you will not be able to eliminate all paper, you can use significantly less with technologies that are widely available at a price that any office can easily afford. Here are four steps to make that happen.
My good friend Ross Kodner, coined the term The PaperLESS Office™. This concept established the realistic goal of reducing the amount of paper and how often it's handled. It doesn't mean completely eliminating paper, which too often comes to mind when thinking about a paperless law office. While we'll use the term “paperless,” keep in mind you'll still be dealing with some paper, but the amount of paper in use will be significantly reduced.
There's more to properly implementing paperless procedures in your office than just getting some hardware and software and having at it. To create your paperless workflow, start by answering the following to establish internal procedures:
- What documents do I want to convert to electronic files? These could include:
Your answers to these questions will determine whether you need to add more digital storage space.
- Am I going to eliminate maintaining paper copies of outgoing documents in my files so both outgoing and incoming documents are all stored electronically?
- Do I have all the software I need?
If you want your documents to be searchable, you'll need the capability to perform Optical Character Recognition (OCR) on them.
- Will I shred all documents once they have been scanned or will I keep documents with original signatures on file?
- Do I want everyone to be able to access these documents, and if so, where should they be placed?
If you want to access your files from anywhere, you’ll need to think about cloud storage, preferably a secure cloud-based law practice management system.
- Am I going to use my existing electronic folder structure, or do I want to implement a data management system?
- What is my budget for this project?
The paperless workflow you create for your law firm is basically a roadmap that everyone in your firm must follow to the letter. Any system will rise and fall on consistency. This will take discipline on the part of you and your staff, but is critical to paperless success.
Start creating your paperless law office workflow with this checklist:
- Decide where you are going to store your data:
- Determine how are you going to organize your digital documents:
- Create a consistent file naming structure that replicates the structure of the paper filing system. Here’s an example: 1728 – Linda Jones – Corresp – 12-22-2017
- Scan documents in this order:
- Map the steps for dealing with incoming and outgoing documents. Here is an example using Firm Central law practice management software:
You can also create a visual diagram of the paperless process in your firm to make it easy for everyone to remember at a glance.
Don’t develop the paperless workflow process alone – involve all of your office staff. This will help them understand what you are trying to accomplish. It will also help you get their buy in to the new way of doing things. Create written procedures and follow them yourself to get everyone in the firm to adopt the new process.
Make a game of the new process. For example:
Humor and recognition will generate goodwill and get everyone involved.
If you want to position your firm to dramatically increase productivity and efficiency while reducing waste and overhead, it’s time to take these four steps toward a paperless office. If you don’t, chances are that your competition will and you’ll be left behind.
Read three basic suggestions that will allow even the most underwater of solo and small-firm practitioners to feel like a real lawyer again.
Are you on your way to creating a paperless law firm? To avoid any missteps follow these six recommendations for a seamless and painless transition.